With the beginning of the temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as a result of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation, Ukraine stopped supplying water through the North Crimean Canal to the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
This step is an important component of comprehensive political, diplomatic and economic pressure on the aggressor state to accelerate the process of deoccupation of the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and its reintegration into Ukraine. As the occupying state is unable to provide the Peninsula with water resources on its own, none of the projects of the Russian occupation administration aimed at overcoming the “water crisis” in Crimea (seawater desalination, Kuban water supply, etc.) can be implemented in the short or even medium term.
However, recently the issue of restoring Ukraine’s water supply to Crimea has gained a wide socio-political resonance in the information space – both in Ukraine and in the temporarily uncontrolled territory of the Crimean Peninsula. Accordingly, there is a need to understand the most relevant and controversial aspects of the problem.
Water from Dnipro to Crimea
According to the State Agency of Water Resources of Ukraine, until 2014, the North Crimean Canal annually supplied more than 1 billion cubic meters (m3) of Dnipro water to the Crimean Peninsula, which was an increase of 75-85% of total water consumption in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
For example, in 2013, the North Crimean Canal supplied 1.134 billion m3 of water to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, in particular for the needs of:
- irrigation – 952 million m3 (83.95% of the total water supply to the Crimea);
- household needs (filling of reservoirs) – 103 million m3 (9.08%);
- fisheries – 19 million m3 (1.68%);
- other needs – 60 million m3 (5.29%).
As we can see, the lion’s share of water use from the North Crimean Canal fell precisely on the needs of agro-industrial and industrial complexes of the peninsula.
The local water resources of Crimea average 910 million cubic meters per year, decreasing to 430 million m3 in particularly dry and low-water years. The projected groundwater reserves are estimated at 445.5 million m3 per year.
According to the state accounting of water use, about 101-105 million m3 of water was used annually for drinking and household needs within the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which is approximately nine times less than the total local runoff (and four times less in low-water years). That means that drinking and household needs of the population and water users of Crimea can be fully met by local runoff, even in low-water years.
In addition, experts estimate that one person consumes approximately 52-54 m3 of water per year. Thus, even considering the growing population of the peninsula due to a purposeful demographic policy to move Russian citizens to the temporarily occupied territory (TOT) of Crimea and Sevastopol, local water resources are able to meet the household needs of the Crimean people. Thus, the potential restoration of Ukraine’s water supply through the North Crimean Canal to the Crimean Peninsula is important for the occupying state, primarily in terms of ensuring the development of agriculture, industry and the military-industrial complex.
The fact is that in order to further preserve the military-political and geostrategic “dividends,” Russia needs to somehow reduce the economic losses of keeping the temporarily occupied Crimea in its composition. It should be noted that in accordance with the norms of international law, the responsibility for ensuring the living conditions of the civilian population in the occupied territory is on the occupying state.
The potential restoration of water supply to the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, until the return of the Peninsula to the control of the Ukrainian authorities, may have a number of extremely negative consequences. The policy of the actual “pacification of the aggressor” will only complicate and delay the processes of deoccupation and reintegration of the Crimean Peninsula and will increase the level of militarisation of the Azov and Black Sea region and the continuation of the “creeping occupation” at sea.
The following will take place:
- depletion of natural resources of the Peninsula;
- intensification of repressions of the Russian occupation administration against the Crimean people;
- change in the demographic structure of the Crimean Peninsula.
As a result, the supply of water resources to the temporarily occupied territory will reduce the financial and economic cost of maintaining Crimea for the occupying state, which will facilitate the incorporation and integration of the Crimean Peninsula into the Russian Federation. In addition, the water supply restoration will require practical implementation mechanisms in the legal field, in particular, the conclusion of appropriate agreements.
Any agreements concluded directly with the so-called “authorities of the Republic of Crimea” wholly controlled by Moscow or indirectly with private companies operating under Russian occupation law, regardless of their place of registration, or even with offshore companies, will in future be used for attempts to legitimise the occupation administration of the Russian Federation in the temporarily occupied Crimea.
The “export” of water to the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea will undoubtedly affect the domestic political life of the country.
Because of this, the following is likely:
- deepening of social division;
- growth of protest sentiments among various social groups;
- and as a consequence – the general socio-political destabilisation of the situation in the country. In this case, the possibility of mass riots is not ruled out.
In the foreign policy sphere, the international anti-Putin coalition will be weakened and international political and diplomatic pressure on the aggressor state, in particular, international sanctions, will be curtailed. In general, this will reduce the weight of the “Ukrainian question” at the international level and the general weakening of Ukraine’s position on the world stage.
The complex, given state of things will mean a decrease in the subjectivity of Ukraine in terms of de-occupation and reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories both in Crimea and in some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Variable Scenarios of Actions of the Russian Federation due to Water Supply Non-restoration by Ukraine to the Temporarily Occupied Territory of Crimea. Russian Armaments in the Crimea
|Main armaments and military equipment||0.01.2014||01.01.2020||Difference|
|Armoured combat vehicles||117||305||+188|
|Armoured modernized combat vehicles||53||62||+9|
|Anti-tank launchers with missiles||9||39||+30|
Currently, the number of formations and the number of ground units with heavy armoured vehicles and artillery systems of the interspecies group of troops of the Russian Armed Forces in Crimea is limited. This does not make it possible to conduct offensive operations on their own without their significant strengthening at the expense of units of the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation. Accordingly, nowadays, Russia’s armed aggression from the south is highly probable only in the event of a full-scale offensive against Ukraine from several fronts.
It is most likely that a full-scale offensive by Russia would begin with the use of offensive groups in the northeastern direction of Ukraine. At the same time, a significant part of the offensive groups would have to move in the direction of Kyiv, and the motorised infantry divisions would strike in the direction of Kharkiv and Severodonetsk at this time in order to gain opportunities for further advance in the direction of Dnipro.
Under such a scenario and algorithm, the opening of the “Southern Front” would make sense. But, even in this case, the “Southern Front” would not be the main one, but it would be of secondary importance. Its main goal would be to advance the concentration of Russian leading strike forces for further connection.
At the same time, it should be noted that the priority task for the military-political leadership of the Russian Federation in the occupied Crimea, which is considered primarily in the military dimension from a geostrategic point of view, is to strengthen the interspecies unification of troops to the level of independently conduct large-scale offensive operations, even without their significant strengthening at the expense of connections of the Southern military district of the Russian Federation.
This is, in particular, clearly evidenced by the gradual change in the quantitative and qualitative indicators of the Crimean interspecific grouping of troops during 2014-2020. Given the current dynamics, this goal can be achieved in the medium term.
Consequently, in 10-15 years, the probability of capturing the southern regions of the Kherson region through the use of interspecific groups of Russian Armed Forces in the temporarily occupied Crimea will increase significantly.
On 1 July 2020, Ukraine informed the OSCE about the military potential accumulated by Russia against Ukraine. The creation of a “land corridor” from a political point of view will require the direct annexation of the so-called “DPR/LPR” by the Russian Federation, which is tactically unprofitable for it. Under the current conditions, indirect control over these “quasi-republics” is much more advantageous for Russia than direct inclusion: they become a source of exhaustion and destabilisation of Ukraine.
The “frozen conflict” and its constant latent hot phase are becoming an instrument of Russia to return all of Ukraine to its sphere of influence. Also, the indirect method of governance minimises the responsibility of the Russian Federation for armed aggression against Ukraine and avoids direct budget expenditures in these territories. In addition, today’s Russia will find it difficult to maintain and integrate new territories from many points of view.
Nowadays, the above-mentioned scenarios seem unlikely from both a military and a political point of view.
Full-scale Russian Offensive on Ukraine over the “Water Crisis”
Nowadays, Russia’s full-scale armed aggression against Ukraine, linked to the “water crisis” on the Crimean Peninsula, is not politically justified in any way. After all, in this case, there is a risk of a general weakening of the current political regime of the Russian Federation. This risk is not very commensurate with the problem of water supply to Crimea.
It is also necessary to consider the current unfavorable epidemiological and economic situation in Russia (in particular, falling oil prices on the world oil market), as well as Russia’s entry into the internal political crisis due to the need to ensure successful transformation of the regime.
In such circumstances, the strengthening of international sanctions due to armed aggression is extremely unfavorable for the Kremlin’s military-political leadership. The probability of Russia’s full-scale military offensive against Ukraine will increase significantly if Putin begins to lose power or if the generals come to power after Putin’s rule.
However, large-scale hostilities will require a preliminary consensus among various Russian elites: central, regional, military, and oligarchic.
Repetition of “Hybrid” Scenarios of New Territories Occupation in the South of Ukraine
According to the captain of the first rank of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Andriy Ryzhenko, the probable scenario of “creeping” occupation could be the armed aggression of the Russian Federation from the sea in combination with the use of “hybrid war” methods. The purpose of such an operation is to deprive Ukraine of access to the sea.
In the event of an offensive on the coast, Russia will most likely use the “Crimean scenario” with the landing of troops and special operations forces in Ukrainian coastal cities in parallel with the use of naval, air and ground components of troops on the Azov and Black Sea line.
In this way, the Russian military-political command will try to block the permanent locations of Ukrainian military units, southern airports and sea trade ports, relying on the support of the pro-Russian part of Ukrainian society. This scenario is likely in the case of general destabilization of the socio-political situation in Ukraine, such as mass riots, comparable in scale to the events of autumn 2013 – winter 2014, and so on.
Continuation of “Hybrid Pressure” of the Russian Federation on Ukraine within the Limits of Permanent “Hybrid Aggression”
Russia will try the integrated use of various methods of military-political pressure and “hybrid influence” on Ukraine in order to restore water supply to the temporarily occupied Crimean Peninsula.
In particular, the expected steps are:
- constant updating of the issue in the public information discourse and conducting special information operations;
- attempts to bring the issue to various official and unofficial international platforms through the use of diplomatic channels and so-called people’s diplomacy;
- attempts to create indirect mechanisms for the “export” of water to the temporarily occupied territory of the Crimean Peninsula (for example, through private companies);
- escalation of military tensions in eastern Ukraine and in the Azov and Black Sea region;
- demonstrative military exercises;
- closure of certain areas in the Black and Azov Seas for unimpeded navigation;
- tightening restrictions on civil merchant shipping in the Kerch Strait and Azov Sea, for which the FSB Border Service will delay the passage of ships;
- other provocative actions at sea;
- attempts to lobby for water supply issues through their agents of influence – both in Ukraine and in the world;
- committing sabotage and terrorist acts at critical infrastructure facilities. Currently, such a scenario is considered to be the most likely.
Combat Capabilities and Political Realism
The given list of scenarios of actions of the Russian Federation is not exhaustive. In fact, there are many different scenarios for Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine. It is also worth noting that in practice, these scenarios can be implemented not only in “pure form.”
The practical implementation of the plans of the Russian Federation may combine elements of various military and special operations, or, depending on the variability of events, there may be a transition from one algorithm and model of action to another. A common feature for all scenarios is that the implementation must justify itself both in terms of achieving and the importance of the goal, and in terms of resource use and military-political risks.
In order to implement any of the scenarios, it is necessary to have a favorable environment. Achieving this goal should take place with the least risk, loss, negative consequences and optimal use of resources, as well as justify themselves politically.
For example, the capture of certain southern districts of the Kherson region in order to establish control over the dam in the North Crimean Canal and restore water supply to the Crimean Peninsula is an operative and tactical operation.
However, the military contingent of the Armed Forces and other Ukrainian armed formations are sufficient to repel such a local offensive in southern Ukraine. In order to ensure an effective offensive, the forces and means of the side conducting the offensive must outnumber the forces of the defenders by 3-6 times (currently, the Crimean interspecies group of troops cannot provide such an advantage).
At the same time, such scenarios as a full-scale military offensive or an offensive from the sea in combination with the “hybrid occupation” of new territories cannot be implemented without operative and strategic operations. Carrying out operations of this level in connection with the need to restore water supply to Crimea does not make sense: the degree of risk and political responsibility do not correspond to the problem. Rather, Russia may well try such actions at a critical moment to “save” its internal regime or to return all of Ukraine (or part of it) to the orbit of “its influence” after all political opportunities have been exhausted.
At the same time, today’s Russia, perceiving the world order through the prism of the concept of “Eurasianism,” and dreaming of returning to the status of a superpower, does not have adequate resources for direct incorporation and subordination of the so-called “sphere of influence.” Therefore, it resorts to “hybrid means” of aggression and generates “hybrid wars.” It is “hybrid influences” that are becoming the most convenient form of pressure on Ukraine in all respects. And the issue of resuming the supply of water resources to Crimea is no exception.
Military Exercises and New Weapons
From the point of view of political realism and pragmatism, the military exercises “Caucasus-2020” should also be considered. On the one hand, “Caucasus-2020” is a large-scale strategic command and staff military exercises that will take place as part of the end of the summer training period in Russian Armed Forces. During the exercises, the full range of measures for the training and deployment of Russian general-purpose forces will be worked out, as well as new models of weapons.
Units and parts of the Southern, Western and Central Military Districts, the Air and Space Forces, the Navy, the Airborne Troops and other armed formations of the Russian Federation will be involved in the exercises. It is expected that about 100,000 to 120,000 people; 3,000 armoured combat vehicles (including about 500 tanks); 300 aircraft; 250 helicopters,; 50 ships; and up to five submarines will be involved.
Some elements of strategic command and staff exercises, in particular, will be practiced in the temporarily occupied territory of the Crimean Peninsula and in the Black and Azov Seas. On the other hand, in the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea (Opuk, Chauda, Angarsk landfills, adjacent sea areas, airspace), combat training activities are regularly held for all types of troops of the interspecific unification of Russian forces with large-scale transfer of troops and equipment.
That is, the interspecific grouping of Russian troops in the temporarily occupied Crimea is periodically (and quite often) intensified due to the transfer of additional forces from Russia during exercises of various scales. At such exercises, not only defensive but also offensive actions are often practiced.
Increasing the combat and operational readiness of troops is natural during any exercise, and “Caucasus-2020” is no exception. In this way, the Russian military-political leadership maintains a sufficient level of defense capability and readiness of the interspecies union of the Russian Armed Forces in Crimea to ensure the realisation of its interests in the region. The “Caucasus-2020” exercises will be used by Russia’s military-political leadership to demonstrate “Russian military power” to Ukraine and the West.
Undoubtedly, Russia views the “Caucasus-2020” exercises as a tool to put pressure on Ukraine. During them, the Russian Federation may well resort, in particular, to provocative actions at sea against Ukraine. However, Russia’s transition to an open, large-scale military offensive against Ukraine during the “Caucasus-2020” exercises will be hampered by two main factors:
- lack of appropriate favourable conditions;
- participation in the exercises of a number of partner countries of the Russian Federation (in which case it would mean a large-scale war).
At the moment, it is advisable to refrain from any speculation on the issue of possible armed aggression by the Russian Federation in connection with the “water crisis” in Crimea, as in reality such a state of affairs benefits only the aggressor state. Inflating panic in Ukrainian society contributes to the illusion that Ukraine will not comply with all of Russia’s demands on the temporarily occupied territories in order to avoid another escalation of the armed conflict.
Instead, Ukraine needs a pragmatic implementation of a flexible, comprehensive, asymmetric model of strategic deterrence and resistance to the aggressor state.
The fact that Russia today does not have adequate resources and favourable conditions for the implementation of the relevant scenarios, does not mean that Russia has generally abandoned the intention to return to Ukraine in one format or another to the orbit of its influence.
Various methods can be used to achieve this goal. Currently, Russia is acting politically and “hybridly” and is waiting for its “window of opportunity.” But the situation and tactics may well change in the future. And we need to understand that. Therefore, each of the scenarios should be taken seriously.
The main task of Ukraine is to act to minimise the above threats and increase the risks for Russia from the potential implementation of each of the scenarios.
What Should Be Ukraine’s Actions?
Today, it is obvious that the issue of water supply restoration to Crimea will continue to be inspired both at the level of the top military and political leadership of the Russian Federation and the Crimean occupation administration, and at the level of Russian special services and agents of influence. In addition, military-political pressure on Ukraine will increase.
Under such conditions, the necessary actions are:
- Prevention of water supply restoration on the TOT of the Crimean Peninsula until it is deoccupied.
- Inadmissibility of settlement of the international armed conflict in separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions at the expense of concessions in the issue of water supply restoration on the TOT of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol before deoccupation of the peninsula.
- Achieving a socio-political consensus and implementing a consistent, balanced state policy, in particular, in the information environment, on the inadmissibility of water supply restoration to the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea until de-occupation.
- “Reducing the degree” of social tension and preventing further artificial inflating of panic among the population about the possible armed aggression of the Russian Federation in connection with the “water crisis” in Crimea. Stop speculating and manipulating the issue for Russian purposes.
- Taking real measures to increase the level of defence capabilities of southern Ukraine, taking into account all possible scenarios of potential deployment of Russian armed aggression by opening the “Southern Front” to increase opportunities to deter both local offensive and full-scale military operation using aircraft, navy and heavy weapons.
- improving the organisation of land defence in order to protect against armed aggression from the sea and air;
- modernisation of air and missile defence;
- strengthening of coast guard;
- construction of fortifications;
- development of military infrastructure;
- improving the logistics potential of the infrastructure of the South of Ukraine.
- Optimisation of the deterrent system of the aggressor state and implementation of an asymmetric model of counteraction: concentration of financial resources, not only on long-term, large-scale rearmament projects, but also on production and purchase of those types of armaments that can be used in the short term (electronic warfare and high-precision weapons), as well as the development of the territorial defence system and the reserve service (creation of reserve units).
- Development, approval and implementation of an effective state program for the development of the Naval Forces of Ukraine, taking into account the current needs of countering threats in the Azov and Black Sea region.
- Working out the scenarios of operative transfer of contingent personnel, units of armament and military equipment. Establishment of interdepartmental cooperation, in particular, between the Armed Forces, the National Guard, the SBGS, the SSU and civilian authorities in the context of potential armed aggression by the Russian Federation in southern Ukraine.
- Systematic conduct of military exercises involving different types of troops together with NATO partners in the Black Sea (in particular with NATO member countries from the Black Sea region).
- Dialogue with NATO on the need to strengthen the Alliance’s naval presence in the Black Sea.
- Strengthening security measures at critical infrastructure facilities. Taking counter-sabotage and counter-terrorist measures.
- Strengthening cooperation on intelligence exchange between the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the Joint Forces Command, the Armed Forces Command, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, the SSU.
- Strengthening counterintelligence activities in public authorities of Ukraine, the powers of which include: a) development and implementation of state policy on de-occupation and reintegration of the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol; b) the issue of water supply restoration / non-restoration to the temporarily occupied territory of the Crimean Peninsula.
- Inadmissibility of privatisation of the North Crimean Canal Administration and other state institutions and enterprises of strategic importance in the issue of water supply restoration / non-restoration to the temporarily occupied territory of the Crimean Peninsula.
- Implementation of measures to improve irrigation and land reclamation of the southern districts of Kherson region in terms of termination of water supply to the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
- Strengthening the work of foreign diplomatic missions of Ukraine in the direction of taking preventive measures to counteract potential new attempts by the Russian occupation administration to restore water supply to the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea at various international sites (both official and unofficial).
- Raising at the international level the issue of illegality of the involvement of an interspecies group of Russian troops in the temporarily occupied Crimea in the military exercises “Caucasus-2020” in the context of the ongoing militarisation of the Crimean Peninsula and the Azov and Black Sea region.
chief consultant of the reintegration service and de-occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea of Representations of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.